Sprinting South towards Florida: Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and our first Air Force Base Family Camp

At the very end of our last post I alluded to a pending report on our sprint towards home.  Take a look at the screenshot of our 2016 travel map below, particularly the magenta waypoints beginning with “H” in Iowa and ending with “K” in western Kentucky.  It’s not just that these points are generally further apart than most of the others on our map, it’s also that we stayed a shorter time in those last three stops.  Specifically, one day in Missouri, two days in Illinois, and one day in Kentucky before moving on down the road.

For us, this is an aggressive pace. As I have mentioned before, driving a 13 ton, 35′ long rig with an additional vehicle under tow is far more demanding and stressful than driving a car.  While I am long past being comfortable with a “drive through the night” scenario, in a car I don’t terribly mind a 500 mile travel day.  In the RV, however, I prefer to keep it under 200.  So when Rosemarie announced that she was ready to be home with family ASAP, the timing of which coincided with our decision to skip Isle Royale and Voyageurs National Parks, I started plotting a track home that, after we visited Andrea in Iowa, would get us there rapidly but with enough multi day stops to keep us fresh and happy.  This meant a couple of things:

    • A direct route, so no big deviations just to see something. I.e, Chicago was out.
    • Perhaps seven 200 miles legs to get us to northern Florida, and then two shorter legs to visit family in central Florida and the Gulf Coast.  Roughly 1,550 miles, all told.
    • Three full tanks of gas just to bee line it to the Florida Gulf Coast, but likely four fill ups of the 75 gallon tank during October to meet our travel requirements in the state.
    • Likely no opportunity to sell Rosemarie’s jewelry at farmers markets since we would be sprinting through towns with stops of only a day or two.
    • The gas cost would pinch our budget, and since it would not be offset by vending at markets, we would need to select very affordable campgrounds along the way.

Passing through St Louis.

The magenta points in the above map represent the the first 40% of that route planning.  We left Iowa and headed southeast for 200 miles to the northeast tip of Missouri.  Passport America came through with a full hook up site for less than $15 all in at The Catfish Place Campground in Arbela.  This is an odd place.  The property is centered on an affordable, all-you-can-eat buffet featuring comfort food: fried chicken, fried shrimp, baked and whole fried catfish (natch,) mashed potatoes, hush puppies, corn on the cob, fresh baked bread, salad bar, etc.  The entire meal: $12.60 plus tax per person, with a 50 cent discount for cash payments.  Beats the hell out of Paula Dean’s similar fare in Savannah.  We sprung for it despite our budget concerns this month, and consider it money well spent.  Besides, how can you stay in a spot called “The Catfish Place” and not find out what that’s all about?

The campground itself is on a well manicured property with an unexpected assortment of amenities.  They have a decent sized pond with boats and giant inflatable transparent balls into which a person can crawl and then “walk on water.”  In lieu of a basket ball court, they have a basketball shooting rig, similar to those you see in amusement parks but using full sized rims and balls.  They have a small island gazebo accessible by walkway out in the pond, a horseshoe pit, and a partially enclosed rec room.

Our pull through site at The Cat Fish Place.

The west portion of the campground was not nearly as attractive as the eastern half, but it had strong wifi and a pull through site available.  Since we were only staying one night, we went with it.  A lot of RVers specifically seek out pull through sites to avoid a troublesome backing experience with their rigs.  We have never felt so constrained: Rosemarie and I have worked out a great signalling system, and are quite proficient at backing our rig into tight spots.  But when you are doing a minimum stay with no plans to drive into town, a pull through site is incredibly convenient, allowing you to break camp in no time and get on your way.

Which we did the very next morning, with a 220 mile push into southern Illinois.  Here we experienced our very first Air Force Base Family Campground at Scott AFB.  We arrived without reservations, and were fortunate enough to snag the very last spot available.  It was awkwardly positioned, with the power and water pedestal on the wrong side, as are half the sites in the campground since they use a shared connection point between each pair of spots, but by pulling forward, rather than backing in, we were able to make it work. The campground itself was pleasant, though nothing to write home about; our site was unlevel and the bathhouse dirty, but the rest of the base was, as pretty much all Air Force facilities are, very well maintained and huge.

At $20 a night it is a reasonably good deal, and we took advantage of our two days there to shop at the commissary (my god the meat prices are amazing) and do multiple loads of laundry (as an RVer, when you find $1 machines, you use them.)  Ever since the ridiculously good thrift store sale we stumbled across at the Newport Naval Station, we have kept our eye out for other base thrift shops.  While the Scott AFB version did not have a ludicrous sale going on, we did pick up a couple of things dirt cheap, including a trilogy of books by one of Rosemarie’s favorite writers.

While at the base we also learned about the Air Force’s Frequent Camper Program.  Apparently, for $40 you can buy a package that gives you five certificates for free nights at AFB Family Campgrounds and a passport book of all the participating bases.  Collect stamps from ten of them and get another five certificates for free night camping.  The catch?  No one seems to have the package available for sale.  Sure they all know about the program and have a stamp available to mark you passport book, but neither Scott nor the next two AFB’s we called on our route had the actual initial package available.  Perhaps not the best run Air Force program.  Maybe the $163 BILLION in cost overruns of the F-35 Lightening II/Joint Strike Fighter have led to cut backs in the camping program.

Our site at Scott AFB after we pulled out.  This is one of the more spacious options, but the power and water post are on the wrong side.

In any case, after leaving Scott AFB we continued south 200 miles into Kentucky, stopping at another Passport America participant, Pirates Cove Resort in Hardin.  Arriving at what must be the end of their season, we found the office closed, but got hold of the owner or manager by the posted phone number, and he walked us through our options within the three campground areas on his property.  We selected a power and water site near the nearly deserted lake front area in campground C.  While none of the spots were technically pull through, the lack of other campers allowed us to “pull through” the spot behind our selection directly into our site, removing the need to unhook Loki for our one night stay.

Our sort of pull through site in Campground C of Pirates Cove RV Resort.

The next morning we broke camp in short order and stopped by the office to make payment for the previous night before starting our fourth 200 mile leg towards Tennessee and another Air Force Base.

PKM adding her tracks to the raccoon and bird life markings on the mud flats beside the lake at Pirates Cove.

6 thoughts on “Sprinting South towards Florida: Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and our first Air Force Base Family Camp

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